Jerusalem, 2013, panoramic view of the old city from Mount of Olives. Photo by Blick vom Ölberg auf die Altstadt. CC BY-SA 3.0
Old City of Jerusalem viewed from the Mount of Olives. (Photographer: Blick vom Ölberg. License: CC BY-SA 3.0)

What is…

also known as: Yerushalem, Yerushalayim, Uru-Salim, Salem, Jebus, The City of Judah, Ariel, The City of God, The Holy City, el-Khuds (“the holy”)

“We will not return immediately to Springfield. We will go abroad among strangers where I can rest. We will visit the Holy Land and see those places hallowed by the footsteps of the Savior. There is no place I so much desire to see as Jerusalem.
—the last words of President Abraham Lincoln, spoken to his wife Mary the very moment before he was assassinated

The name Jeru-Salem means “possession of peace” or “foundation of peace.” The dual form may refer to the 2 mountains on which it was built, that is Zion and Moriah, or, as some suppose, to the 2 parts of the city—the “upper” and the “lower city.”

Old City of modern Jerusalem—satellite view

Jerusalem is a “mountain city enthroned on a mountain fastness” (compare Psalm 68:15-16; Psa. 87:1; Psa. 125:2; Psa. 76:1-2; Psa. 122:3). It stands on the edge of one of the highest tablelands in Israel, and is surrounded on the southeastern, the southern, and the western sides by deep and precipitous valleys.


Jerusalem is first mentioned in Scripture in Genesis under the name Salem (compare Psalm 76:2).

And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) —Genesis 14:18 ESV

See: Abraham meeting in Salem

The Tell-el-Amarna collection of ancient tablets includes 6 letters from its Amorite king to Egypt, recording the attack of the Abiri about 1480 B.C. The name of Jerusalem is there spelled Uru-Salim (“city of peace”).

The city of Jerusalem was once “The City of Judah” (2 Chronicles 25:28).


It is afterwards named among the cities of the tribe of Benjamin (1 Chronicles 11:4).

But the man would not spend the night. He rose up and departed and arrived opposite Jebus (that is, Jerusalem). He had with him a couple of saddled donkeys, and his concubine was with him. —Judges 19:10 ESV

In the time of David, the city was divided between the Tribe of Judah and Benjamin.


When first mentioned under the name Jerusalem, Adoni-zedek was its king.

As soon as Adoni-zedek, king of Jerusalem, heard how Joshua had captured Ai and had devoted it to destruction, doing to Ai and its king as he had done to Jericho and its king, and how the inhabitants of Gibeon had made peace with Israel and were among them, he feared greatly, because Gibeon was a great city, like one of the royal cities, and because it was greater than Ai, and all its men were warriors. —Joshua 10:1-2 ESV

After the death of Joshua, the city was taken and set on fire by the men of Judah (Judges 1:1-8); but the Jebusites were not wholly driven out of it.

King David

The city is not again mentioned till we are told that David brought the head of Goliath here (1 Samuel 17:54).

David afterwards led his forces against the Jebusites still residing within its walls, and drove them out, making his personal dwelling on Zion, which he called “the city of David” (2 Samuel 5:5-9; 1 Chronicles 11:4-8). Here he built an altar to the Lord on the threshing-floor of Araunah the Jebusite (2 Samuel 24:15-25), and he brought up the ark of the covenant and placed it in the new tabernacle which he had prepared for it here.

Jerusalem now became the capital of the kingdom.

The city of David included both the upper city and Millo, and was surrounded by a wall built by David and Solomon, who appear to have restored the original Jebusite fortifications.

See: City of David

King Solomon

After the death of David, Solomon built the temple, a house for the name of the Lord, on Mount Moriah (B.C. 1010). He also greatly strengthened and adorned the city, and it became the great center of all the civil and religious affairs of the nation (Deuteronomy 12:5; compare 12:14; 14:23; 16:11-16; Psalm 122).

The name Zion (or Sion) appears to have been, like Ariel (“the hearth of God”), a poetical term for Jerusalem, but in the Greek age was more specially used of the Temple hill. The priests’ quarter grew up on Ophel, south of the Temple, where also was Solomon's Palace outside the original city of David.

The walls of the city were later extended by Jotham and Manasseh to include this suburb and the Temple (2 Chronicles 27:3; 33:14).

Demolished because of its sins

After the disruption of the kingdom on the accession to the throne of Rehoboam, the son of Solomon, Jerusalem became the capital of the kingdom of the two tribes. It was subsequently often taken and retaken by the Egyptians, the Assyrians, and by the kings of Israel (2 Kings 14:13, 14; 18:15, 16; 23:33-35; 24:14; 2 Chronicles 12:9; 26:9; 27:3, 4; 29:3; 32:30; 33:11), till finally, for the abounding iniquities of the nation, after a siege of 3 years, it was taken and utterly destroyed, its walls demolished to the ground, and its temple and palaces consumed by fire, by Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon (2 Kings 25; 2 Chronicles 36; Jeremiah 39), B.C. 588.

The Holy City is named in a monumental record about Sennacherib's attack in 702 B.C. The “camp of the Assyrians” was still shown in about 70 A.D., on the flat ground to the northwest, included in the new quarter of the city.

The desolation of the city and the land was completed by the retreat of the principal Jews into Egypt (Jeremiah 40-44), and by the final carrying captive into Babylon of all that still remained in the land (52:3), so that it was left without an inhabitant (B.C. 582). Compare the predictions, Deuteronomy 28; Leviticus 26:14-39.

Streaming video— 
Animated reconstruction of Jerusalem—from Melchizedek to its Babylonian destruction
See how Jerusalem changed between Melchizedek’s time to the destruction in 586 BC
Video by Israel MyChannel
Length: 2 minutes

Rebuilt after Captivity

But the streets and walls of Jerusalem were again to be built, in troubled times (Dan. 9:16, 19, 25), after a captivity of 70 years. This restoration was begun B.C. 536, “in the first year of Cyrus” (Ezra 1:2-3, 5-11). The Books of Ezra and Nehemiah contain the history of the re-building of the city and temple, and the restoration of the kingdom of the Jews, consisting of a portion of all the tribes. The kingdom thus constituted was for 2 centuries under the dominion of Persia, till B.C. 331; and thereafter, for about a century and a half, under the rulers of the Greek empire in Asia, till B.C. 167.

For a century, the Jews maintained their independence under native rulers—the Asmonean princes. At the close of this period they fell under the rule of Herod and of members of his family, but practically under Rome.

The ancient historian Josephus called Jerusalem a city “of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind.”

Ariel—a symbolic name

Hebrew: אֲרִיאֵל —transliteration: Ariel

Ariel (“lioness of El”) is a symbolic name for Jerusalem (Isaiah 29:1-2, 7), as “victorious under God,” and in Ezek. 43:15-16, for the altar (Hebrew: 'ariel —“the hearth of God”) of burnt offerings, the secret of Israel’s lion-like strength

Aholibah—a symbolic name

Aholibah is the name of an imaginary harlot, who is a symbol of Jerusalem, because she had abandoned the worship of the true God and given herself up to the idolatries of foreign nations (Ezek. 23:4, 11, 22, 36, 44) like an adulteress.

70 A.D. destruction

Painting of The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem.
The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70 as depicted by painter David Roberts (1850)

Jerusalem was sieged and laid in ruins by the Romans in 70 A.D. Of this destruction, Josephus records that the entire city of Jerusalem was demolished, excepting 3 towers and the west wall (and apparently Solomon's Porch):

Now as soon as the army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury (for they would not have spared any, had there remained any other work to be done), Caesar gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as were of the greatest eminency; that is, Phasaelus, and Hippicus, and Mariamne; and so much of the wall as enclosed the city on the west side.

This wall was spared, in order to afford a camp for such as were to lie in garrison, as were the towers also spared, in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valor had subdued; but for all the rest of the wall, it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it had ever been inhabited. —Titus Flavius Josephus, The Wars of the Jews Or The History of the Destruction of Jerusalem, Book 7, Chapter 1

See: Solomon's Porch

Till 131 A.D., the Jews who still lingered about Jerusalem quietly submitted to the Roman sway. But in that year the Emperor Hadrian, in order to hold them in subjection, rebuilt and fortified the city. The Jews, however, took possession of it, having risen under the leadership of one Bar-Chohaba (i.e., “the son of the star”) in revolt against the Romans. Some 4 years afterwards (A.D. 135), however, they were driven out of it with great slaughter, and the city was again destroyed; and over its ruins was built a Roman city called Aelia Capitolina, a name which it retained till it fell under the dominion of the Mohammedans, when it was called el-Khuds, i.e., “the holy.”

The modern Jerusalem by-and-by began to be built over the immense beds of rubbish resulting from the overthrow of the ancient city; and whilst it occupies certainly the same site, there are no evidences that even the lines of its streets are now what they were in the ancient city.

Emperor Constantine

In A.D. 326, Helena, mother of the emperor Constantine, made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem with the view of discovering the places mentioned in the life of our Lord. She caused a church to be built on what was then supposed to be the place of the nativity at Bethlehem. Constantine, animated by her example, searched for the holy sepulchre, and built over the supposed site a magnificent church, which was completed and dedicated A.D. 335. He relaxed the laws against the Jews till this time in force, and permitted them once a year to visit the city and wail over the desolation of “the holy and beautiful house.”

Conquests by Muslims and others

In A.D. 614, the Persians, after defeating the Roman forces of the emperor Heraclius, took Jerusalem by storm, and retained it till A.D. 637, when it was taken by the Arabians under the Khalif Omar. It remained in their possession till it passed, in A.D. 960, under the dominion of the Fatimite khalifs of Egypt, and in A.D. 1073 under the Turcomans.

In A.D. 1099 the crusader Godfrey of Bouillon took the city from the Muslims with great slaughter, and was elected king of Jerusalem. He converted the Mosque of Omar into a Christian cathedral. During the eighty-eight years which followed, many churches and convents were erected in the holy city. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre was rebuilt during this period, and it alone remains to this day.

In A.D. 1187 the sultan Saladin wrested the city from the Christians. From that time to the present day, with few intervals, Jerusalem has remained in the hands of the Muslims. It has, however, during that period been again and again taken and retaken, demolished in great part and rebuilt, no city in the world having passed through so many vicissitudes.

In the year 1850 the Greek and Latin monks residing in Jerusalem had a fierce dispute about the guardianship of what are called the “holy places.” In this dispute the emperor Nicholas of Russia sided with the Greeks, and Louis Napoleon, the emperor of the French, with the Latins. This led the Turkish authorities to settle the question in a way unsatisfactory to Russia. Out of this there sprang the Crimean War, which was protracted and sanguinary, but which had important consequences in the way of breaking down the barriers of Turkish exclusiveness.


Streaming video— 
Archaeologists discovered in the City of David and Jerusalem evidence of an earthquake that is mentioned in the Bible
Video by Israel Antiquities Authority
Length: 2 minutes

VIDEO NOTES FROM ISRAEL ANTIQUITIES AUTHORITY: Archaeological excavations by the Israel Antiquities Authority in the City of David National Park revealed a layer of destruction, including a row of shattered vessels, including bowls, lamps, cooking utensils, storage and storage jars, which were smashed as the building's walls collapsed. According to the researchers, since no signs of fire were found, this was not a deliberate event and the reason for the collapse of the building is the earthquake that occurred in Israel during the eighth century BCE, during the period of the Kingdom of Judah. See more »

Places in ancient Jerusalem

Nearby places

People of Jerusalem



Modern Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Israel, elevation 2,474 feet (754 meters)—satellite view

Modern Jerusalem “lies near the summit of a broad mountain-ridge, which extends without interruption from the plain of Esdraelon to a line drawn between the southern end of the Dead Sea and the southeastern corner of the Mediterranean.” This high, uneven table-land is everywhere from 20 to 25 geographical miles in breadth. It was anciently known as the mountains of Ephraim and Judah.

Jerusalem is now a city of 85-thousand inhabitants (2015—Israel Central Bureau of Statistics), with ancient medieval walls, partly on the old lines, but extending less far to the south. The traditional sites, as a rule, were first shown in the 4th and later centuries A.D., and have no clear evidence of authenticity. The results of excavation have, however, settled many disputed questions, and the course of the ancient walls have been traced.

“Jerusalem is a city of contrasts, and differs widely from Damascus, not merely because it is a stone town in mountains, whilst the latter is a mud city in a plain, but because while in Damascus Muslim religion and Oriental custom are unmixed with any foreign element, in Jerusalem every form of religion, every nationality of East and West, is represented at one time.”

See the Christian archaeological video which describes this city and the cultural context surrounding Jesus Christ: On the Death & Resurrection of the Messiah (“City of the Great King,” part of the Faith Lessons video series). “When seen in the urban setting of Herod's first century Jerusalem, Jesus' actions and teachings come alive, sparking a deeper understanding of our faith's Jewish roots.”

The coming NEW JERUSALEM of prophecy

the city of Light, the truly holy city of peace

The Apostle John was permitted a vision into the future to see the promised New Jerusalem. He recorded these words…

…one of the seven angels…came and spoke with me, saying, “Come here, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.”

And he carried me away in the Spirit [or in spirit] to a great and high mountain, and showed me the holy city, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God.

Her brilliance [literally: luminary or light or radiance] was like a very costly stone, as a stone of crystal-clear jasper.

It had a great and high wall, with twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels; and names were written on them, which are the names of the twelve tribes of the sons of Israel. There were three gates on the east and three gates on the north and three gates on the south and three gates on the west. And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.

…The city is laid out as a squarefifteen hundred miles; its length and width and height are equal…

The material of the wall was jasper; and the city was pure gold, like clear glass.

The foundation stones of the city wall were adorned with every kind of precious stone.

The first foundation stone was jasper;
the second, sapphire;
the third, chalcedony;
the fourth, emerald;
the fifth, sardonyx;
the sixth, sardius;
the seventh, chrysolite;
the eighth, beryl;
the ninth, topaz;
the tenth, chrysoprase;
the eleventh, jacinth;
the twelfth, amethyst.

And the twelve gates were twelve pearls; each one of the gates was a single pearl.

And the street of the city was pure gold, like transparent glass.

I saw no temple in it, for the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.

And the city has no need of the sun or of the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God has illumined it, and its lamp is the Lamb.

…nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. —Revelation 21:7-27 NASB excerpts (also see Rev. 3:12)

It is interesting to note that the Holy of Holies (the inner sanctuary) constructed by King Solomon in the Temple of Jerusalem was also cubic in shape—20 cubits in length, width and height—overlaid with pure gold.

More information

Bible Archaeology
Article Version: September 28, 2021